New York, August 23, 2004--Mexican Federal authorities have taken over the investigation into the murder of journalist Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco after finding evidence that the killing is linked to organized crime.
Unidentified assailants in the border city of Tijuana, Baja California State, gunned down Ortiz Franco, a lawyer and co-editor of the Tijuana-based weekly Zeta, on June 22.
At an August 18 press conference in Tijuana, José Luis Vasconcelos, a deputy prosecutor for the organized crime division of Mexico's Attorney General's Office, and Baja California Attorney General Antonio Martínez Luna said that the recent arrest of various suspects led to information that connects Ortiz Franco's killing to the Arellano-Félix drug cartel, according to international news reports.
Without offering names or details about the suspects, Vasconcelos said that federal prosecutors are now in charge of the investigation. Although state prosecutors usually investigate murder cases in Mexico, federal authorities may take over a case if they conclude the killing is related to organized crime.
"At this time, we prefer not to give out any names because it may complicate the investigation," Vasconcelos was quoted by press reports as saying. "We have enough solid evidence to establish the probable responsibility of some specific individuals, some of whom are arrested, and others who will follow next," he told reporters during the press conference.
Martínez Luna said that four recently detained kidnappers and hit men, who are part of the Arellano-Félix cartel, provided information linking Ortiz Franco's murder to drug trafficking.
"Two months after Ortiz Franco's killing, no one has been charged with the crime," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "Federal authorities now have the crucial responsibility to conduct a thorough investigation and end the climate of impunity in the U.S.-Mexico border region by prosecuting the killers."
On June 22, Ortiz Franco had just left a physical therapy clinic with his two children when masked gunmen pulled up to his car and shot him four times in the head and neck. The journalist died at the scene. His children were unharmed.
One of the founders of Zeta in 1980, Ortiz Franco wrote editorials and worked on many investigative reports. He also served on a panel created by the Mexican government and the Inter-American Press Association to review official investigations into the murders of Héctor Félix Miranda, Zeta's co-founder, and Víctor Manuel Oropeza, a columnist with the Diario de Juárez newspaper.
Since Ortiz Franco's murder, Zeta has been conducting its own investigation into the killing. Zeta Publisher J. Jesús Blancornelas said the weekly believes that the slaying came in retaliation for Ortiz Franco's journalistic work. He suggested that drug traffickers might have been behind the killing.
Zeta has covered corruption and drug trafficking in Tijuana for many years, with its award-winning reports prompting threats and attacks against its journalists.
In November 1997, members of the Tijuana drug cartel wounded Blancornelas and killed his friend and bodyguard Luis Valero Elizalde. In April 1988, Miranda was fatally shot by two men working as security guards at a racetrack owned by Jorge Hank Rhon, an influential businessman and politician who was elected as Tijuana's mayor on August 1.